“Bouncing Back: Strategies for Building Resilience” by Lisa Bull, Ceridian Canada

Feb 14, 2011 | Corporate Member News

Providing for children while caring for elderly parents. Dealing with financial worries stemming from unexpected job loss. Managing grief after the passing of a loved one. Returning to school to pursue a new path. 

We all face challenges that test our resilience, a term which represents an individual’s ability to overcome trauma, tragedy, prolonged stress, or even the culmination of everyday difficulties stemming from work, relationships and family responsibilities. Through all of these challenges and changes—both positive and negative—we still have to stay focused at work and take care of ourselves and the people we love. And the more resilient we are, the easier this is to do. 

Resilience is not only the ability to recover or rebound from hardship, but the ability to do so without being overwhelmed or acting in dysfunctional ways. It’s analogous to a rubber ball – no matter what you do to it, it still bounces back seemingly unchanged. 

The American Psychological Association reports that resilient people possess a capacity to make realistic plans and to take steps to carry them out. They also have a positive/optimistic view of themselves and confidence in their strengths and abilities, communication and problem solving skills, and the capacity to manage strong feelings, emotions and impulses. Most importantly, they rely on others to help them bounce back. 

Many studies demonstrate that the primary contributing factor to the development of resilience is the existence of caring, supportive relationships within and outside the family. Resilient people seem to know how to successfully navigate to and negotiate with these support systems, accessing and leaning on those they trust to re-capture their state of well-being. 

Ten ways to bounce back and be resilient

So if resilience is a learned behaviour, what can we personally do to build it? 

1.  Find a sense of purpose Resilient people have a passion or purpose that nourishes and sustains them. Complete this sentence: “If money was no object and I had all the time in the world, I would . . . Paint? Work with children? Get in shape?” Identify which activities bring you a sense of fulfillment and personal satisfaction. Then figure out how to translate your dreams into action. 

2.  Have a positive outlook Thoughts like, “It’s terrible and I can’t do anything about it,” wear down your resilience. Turn negative thoughts into positive action and you’ll feel better. Here’s how. Ask yourself, “What can I do today to feel better?” Tell yourself, “I’m going to feel better. Things are going to get better.” Focus on the part of your life that feels good today and avoid wasting anger or negative energy on trivial things. Try not to let small annoyances affect your mood. Spend time with people you like and do things you like to do. Use humour to help you see the positive. Plan something today that you can look forward to. Remember that optimism is a learned skill. It takes practice. 

3. Take pleasure in the small joys of life The small joys of life are what renew us, give us peace, and keep us feeling strong. They also sustain us during times of crisis and challenge. Make time for small joys such as being outdoors, being with family and friends, and doing things you like such as reading, gardening, cooking, fishing, walking or working out. 

4. Take an active approach to solving your problems Resilient people have an ability to negotiate and renegotiate life. That means they’re able to anticipate problems and come up with solutions.

  • Identify the problem. Writing down the problem can be helpful.
  • Seek input from knowledgeable people you trust who can provide you with resources, information and ideas.
  • Don’t deny or ignore your problems. And don’t let them weigh on your mind.
  • Use some of the skills you’ve learned at work to help you manage your personal life. At work, you tackle a problem by gathering information and resources and by breaking big tasks into defined and manageable steps. Do the same with personal issues.
  • Find ways to simplify and organize your life so that the problems and challenges you’re facing are manageable. Look for things you can do to feel less overwhelmed.
  • Try to focus on the things over which you have control. If you focus on the things you do have control over, you may feel better and your problems may not seem so overwhelming.
  • Look back to how you successfully handled problems in the past. Ask yourself, “How did I get through it? How can that knowledge help me now?”

5.  Rely on and help others Asking for help is hard for many of us. Do you ask a good friend for advice when you need it? Do you ask a co-worker or your manager for support when you’re feeling overloaded? If your child is having a problem do you ask for support from the teacher? Paying attention to what you need and asking for help is a sign of resourcefulness and strength, not weakness. And it will help you feel stronger and more resilient. Talk about what you’re going through with others. Learn from people who have been through what you’re going through. Don’t wait for someone to call you. Be the initiator. Get used to accepting help. Be there for people you care about and they’ll be there for you. 

6. Take care of yourself You can’t be resilient, no matter how hard you work at it, if you don’t take care of yourself. If you’re physically exhausted or overextended emotionally, it’s twice as hard to bounce back from a difficult time.

  • Schedule a check-up if you’ve not seen your health care provider within the last year or if you’re not feeling well.
  • Take your vacation days or personal days from work.
  • Exercise. Studies show that resilient people exercise regularly.
  • Limit how much caffeine and alcohol you drink.
  • Stick to what some experts call the “80/20” rule in your eating. If 80 percent of what you eat is healthy — with a nutritious, low-fat mix of vegetables, fruit, and grains — then you can allow yourself to eat what you want for the remaining 20 percent.
  • Pay extra attention to taking care of yourself if you are experiencing a stressful life event such as a separation, a job change, or the death of a relative or friend.
  • Take time to recover. Just as you need time to recover from a physical illness, you also need time to recover when you experience emotional setbacks or losses.

7.  Keep learning and growing When was the last time you learned something new, made a new friend, or pursued a new hobby or interest? Take advantage of opportunities at work and in your personal life to learn and grow. You might learn a new computer or technical skill, a new language, or a new game or sport. Stop yourself from thinking and saying, “I’m too old to . . . ride a bike . . . learn a new language . . . take up walking.” Learning makes you feel capable, fulfilled and more resilient. 

8.  Be ready for change The ability to handle change is a key survival skill of all resilient people. Try to anticipate change and look ahead to see what’s coming. That way you’ll be prepared for the next change when it happens. Make a conscious effort to stay flexible. Realize that the only real way to change is to do something more than once. 

9.  Be a doer, not a complainer People bounce back by doing things. Tell yourself, “I’m going to take this step”. Remind yourself that resilience is about taking charge. Start with the small step you can take right away, rather than waiting to take the big step and maybe never getting to it. Plan things to look forward to. Work on a plan for today, tomorrow or next week. 

10.  Work on reducing stress in your life Most of us are familiar with the classic symptoms of stress: sleep problems, trouble concentrating, headaches, stomach-aches, neck, shoulder, or back pain, heart palpitations, lack of energy. But are you aware of the negative “spill over” stress can have on your personal relationships, your home life, and your ability to cope with everyday activities? Here are some ways to work on reducing stress in your life:

  • Take advantage of the programs and benefits your employer or benefits plans provide  to help you reduce stress and balance the demands of your work and personal life.
  • Try to pinpoint what’s causing your stress. Identify the problem or source.
  • Make an effort to simplify your life. Drop commitments you’re able to drop that deplete you. Time pressure leads to feelings of frustration and can have a negative effect on productivity and creativity.
  • Find ways to relieve tension. Try relaxing your shoulders when you’re tense. Roll your shoulders forward and then back in a rotating motion. Enrol in a meditation or yoga class.
  • Seek support in your faith community. Faith, religion and spirituality help many people move from worry to hope, and stay strong and resilient through life’s ups and downs.
  • Let go of your anger, forgive and move on. Anger is a negative emotion that consumes a lot of mental energy, and generates stress.

We all know that effective stress management techniques and healthy living contribute to our sense of wellness.  But, we also need to remember that perspective and outlook play a big part. The old adage “the glass is half full” is often used in discussions of resilience, as our personal view of the world or of a specific situation we may be dealing with is a key element in the development of resilience. 

Taking the steps needed to build resilience involves self-motivation, optimism and connectivity, while understanding that we are not islands of fortitude who never encounter adversity or personal strife. Resilient people know how to experience then transcend pain, grief or challenges without letting them take over, while gaining the ability to anticipate, identify and avoid similar emotional difficulties in the future. 

In the words of basketball great Michael Jordan, “I have missed more than 9000 shots in my career.  I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game-winning shot…and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that’s precisely why I succeed.” 

Lisa Bull, M.Ed., is Manager, Training and Learning Solutions for Ceridian Canada Ltd. 

About Ceridian Canada:

Ceridian Canada is a human resources solutions provider that helps clients optimize their workforce, reduce costs and save time by finding, paying, developing and engaging their talent. With 40 years of experience, proven expertise and recognized service excellence, Ceridian is a trusted partner to 40,000 Canadian customers.

Ceridian Canada is part of Ceridian Corporation, a global business services company with 8,776 employees and US$1.6 billion in annual revenue (2008). Worldwide, Ceridian provides services to 130,000 customers, touching the lives of 25 million employees.

Recognized repeatedly for HR and workplace best practices, Ceridian was again counted in 2009 among the 50 Best Employers in Canada, the Top 100 Employers, and the Best Workplaces in Canada among others.

Access the Ceridian Canada website here.

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